Yesterday Ukraine went to the polls in an election which will unseat the current president Victor Yushchenko. 90% of the ballots were counted today and there is now likely to be a run off in February between Victor Yanukovych, the pre-poll favourite, and Yulia Tymoshenko.
Although Yanukovych claimed approximately 35% of the vote, in comparison to 25% for Tymoshenko, analysts are speculating that Tymoshenko is likely to pick up more support from candidates eliminated in the first round. It is thought that the present incumbent is languishing on about 6% of ballots cast.
Western interest in Ukrainian elections is entirely pre-occupied with the perceived ’pro western’ or ’pro Russian’ leanings of the candidates. Forth magazine has an excellent corrective, from the Ukrainian perspective. It echoes a piece by James Marson, a journalist based in Kiev, who made a similar argument, in the aftermath of last year’s wrangle over gas.
It is simply not the case that Ukrainians go to the polls determined either to issue a hands off warning to Moscow, or to extend an invitation to Russia to absorb the country.
Yushchenko’s performance is so poor because he has failed to root out corruption in Ukraine. He has also become distracted by wrangles with Russia which are, most Ukrainians would argue, a sideshow. His obsession with Nato, for instance, has never been shared by his countrymen. Polls shows consistent scepticism about the need to join.
Meanwhile Ukraine has suffered particular hardship during the financial crisis. Its debts are heavy and its economy has contracted dramatically. The IMF is awaiting the election result before it agrees to release further finance.
Sean’s Russia Blog offers an intriguing piece of hearsay, that Georgian soldiers arrived in Ukraine before the election, with (or instead of) the country's cohort of obeservers. Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions is suggesting that there was some intent to disrupt proceedings.
However the Council of Europe is among delegations declaring the election free and fair.
Ukraine’s politics are fractious, fragmented and the electorate is increasingly disillusioned, which is the flip side of the Orange Revolution. However, despite the potential for fraud, vote-selling etc., elections are keenly contested.
It’s vibrant democracy, of a sort. And in the short-term, it is likely to edge Ukraine away from Nato enlargement, and towards a stabilised relationship with Moscow, whoever wins the run off.
David Miliband and other inveterate meddlers will just have to respect the judgment of the Ukrainian people.